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Friends of Cooper Island

The Friends of Cooper Island was founded by George Divoky, Ph.D. after his discovery of a Black Guillemot colony on a northern Alaskan barrier island in 1972. The goal of Friends of Cooper Island is to compile, preserve, and distribute Cooper Island research for use by current and future researchers studying climate change and other Arctic phenomena.

Help George Divoky save black guillemots nesting twenty-five miles east of Barrow, Alaska.

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Cooper Island Guillemont with cod

Black Guillemot on Cooper Island, each nesting adult is tagged and identified

Clean white under-wing distinguishes the black guillemot (Cepphus grylle) from the pigeon guillemot. Black guillemots feed under the arctic ice on fish such as capelin. Unprecedented retreat and melt of the arctic pack ice challenges guillemots and has been heralded by the arrival of open water feeding seabirds to nest next to guillemots.

Dr. George Divoky’s 1972 discovery of the Cooper Island Black Guillemot colony provided the first breeding record for guillemots in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. Guillemots were using boxes and other debris from a 1950s military camp as nesting cavities for raising their young. Guillemots typically nest in natural cavities, usually associated with coastal cliffs and rocky shorelines. In northern Alaska however, the low coastal tundra bluffs and gravel beaches lack any fissures or spaces suitable for breeding.

Cooper Island is twenty-five miles east of Barrow Alaska in the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean

Cooper Island is twenty-five miles east of Barrow Alaska in the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean

Friends of Cooper Island are concerned with ensuring the continuation of this unique and timely research. In order to have continued relevance and integrity, it is critical that data be gathered on an annual basis and with the same rigor that founder George Divoky has maintained for the past 28 years. Finally, the organization is developing educational and public outreach programs for children and adults.

On Cooper Island, this meant a complete shift in prey for guillemots, from the ice-loving arctic cod to more open open-water fish that are less abundant and less desirable to the island’s seabirds. It also meant we again had polar bears as regular visitors in August.

Coopers Island Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffins were rare in the Point Barrow area prior to the middle of the twentieth century. But numbers began to increase in the 1970s, with the first recorded breeding in the region occurring on Cooper Island in 1986. Horned Puffins are most abundant in the Bering Sea and the northward extension of their breeding range to northern Alaska required a decrease in summer pack ice extent, an increase in near-shore schooling fish, and a 90-day period when the ground was free of snow.

The story of the Cooper Island Black Guillemots brings home the issue of climate change in a way that is not possible by the recital of physical changes in atmospheric or oceanographic conditions.

Location: Cooper Island, Alaska